Five years after “A Star is Born” debuted on the Lido, on its way to seven Oscar nominations, “Maestro” — Bradley Cooper’s long-awaited second film as director — screened at the Venice Film Festival to rapturous applause. The drama about the life of legendary stage composer Leonard Bernstein landed a seven-minute standing ovation at its world premiere at the Sala Grande Theatre on Saturday night.
Cooper, who plays Bernstein in the Netflix film (with the help of nose prosthetics), and his co-star Carey Mulligan didn’t attend the night’s festivities due to the SAG-AFTRA strike. But Bernstein’s three children — Jamie Bernstein, Alexander Bernstein and Nina Maria Felicia Bernstein — received the audience’s affection, waving to the crowd through tears once the lights came up. And then they basked in the joy of their father’s life. As the credits rolled to Bernstein’s music, they started to flap their arms as conductors, dancing and celebrating.
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A small group of Netflix executives made the trip to Venice, including Scott Stuber, the chairman of the streaming studio’s film division. It’s likely that “Maestro” will be Netflix’s big Oscar contender this year, as Cooper will compete in four categories — director, actor, producer and screenplay — with Mulligan looking to pick up a best actress nomination for playing Bernstein’s wife, actress Felicia Montealegre.
“Maestro” subverts some of Bernstein’s best-known life moments, such as composing “West Side Story,” in favor of focusing on his relationship with Montealegre. The supporting cast includes Matt Bomer (as Bernstein’s lover), Maya Hawke (as Bernstein’s daughter Jamie) and Sarah Silverman (as Bernstein’s sister Shirley). Cooper co-wrote the script with Josh Singer. The film premiered in competition at Venice alongside two other Netflix originals: David Fincher’s “The Killer” and Pablo Larrain’s “El Conde.”
— Variety (@Variety) September 2, 2023
Heading into Venice, much of the buzz surrounding “Maestro” was centered on Cooper’s decision to wear a large prosthetic nose to play Bernstein. Cooper worked with Oscar-winning makeup artist Kazu Hiro (“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Darkest Hour”) to create the controversial prop, which some people on social media have claimed to be antisemitic. Hiro addressed the backlash during the film’s press conference earlier today.
“I wasn’t expecting that to happen,” Hiro said. “I feel sorry that I hurt some people’s feelings.” He went on to explain: “My goal was and Bradley’s goal was to portray Lenny as authentic as possible. Lenny had a really iconic look that everybody knows — there’s so many pictures out there because he’s photogenic, too — such a great person and also inspired so many people. So we wanted to respect the look too, on the inside. So that’s why we did several different tests and went through lots of decisions and that was the outcome in the movie.”
“It’s just such an annoying distraction,” Jamie Bernstein told Vanity Fair before the Venice premiere about the backlash. “The people who were waiting to get mad about something were just waiting to pounce.”
In a previous interview with Variety, Cooper revealed that Steven Spielberg was originally attached to direct a Bernstein biographical drama and recruited Cooper to star in it. Cooper was coming off “A Star Is Born” at the time, and he was more interested in writing and directing movies than acting for someone else, even Spielberg.
“I [told Spielberg], ‘I always felt like I could play a conductor, but may I research the material and see if I can write it and direct it? Would you let me do that?’” Cooper said. “Steven has a lot of interests — he’ll just choose one thing and all of the other things will be on hold. I think he knew he wasn’t going to make that movie for a while. He was kind enough to hand it off to me.” (Spielberg is a producer on “Maestro.”)
Netflix often uses the Venice Film Festival to launch its biggest Oscar contenders. “Roma” won the Golden Lion at the 2018 festival before picking up 10 Oscar nominations and three wins, including best director for Alfonso Cuaron. The streamer’s “Marriage Story” launched in Venice in 2019, while “The Power of the Dog” won Jane Campion the best director prize in 2021. Both films went on to earn best picture Oscar nominations.
“Maestro” will stream on Netflix starting Dec. 20.
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